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Flash memory comes in a variety of formats - all of which can be easily read into your PC or Mac with the right accessory. Many universal readers are available, and some MP3 players can use several different types of cards.
The most typical formats are:
Looking for a small MP3 player? Even though Apple claims that the iPod Shuffle is the world's smallest MP3 player, a smaller one exists with the MobiBLU DAH-1500. This player is a cube of 24mm x 24mm x 24 mm, and comes in a 1GB version for roughly $130.
It comes with a headphone necklace, and features voice recording, a USB cable and a charger that works through the headphone jack.
It reportedly has good sound quality and a bright OLED display.
It is being sold in the U.S. by Walmart.
If 1GB is your chosen benchmark for flash storage capacity, the good news is that you have a lot of choices. According to the Discovery Channel store, one of the best choices in terms of cost and quality is the Creative Labs Zen Nano Plus 1GB model.
This device sells for around $70, and features in-line recording for the preservation of your old vinyl records, a voice recorder and an integrated FM tuner. It comes with a sports armband and carrying case with a belt clip.
Another great choice is the Sony Walkman line of 1GB MP3 players, which offer a quick three minute charge cycle for the internal battery and up to 28 hours playback time. These players run about $70, and are very compact.
Yet another well-rated choice is the Cowon iAudio U2 player with an FM tuner, recording capability, and 15 hours of battery life. At $150, it is a bit pricey - but it comes with high end headphones, true bass sound and a high end stereo equalizer.
According to the editors at CNET, the best flash-based MP3 player is the iRiver Clix. Rated as an 8.7 out of 10, this 2GB player offers support for the Ogg Vorbis music format, SRS Wow sound effects, an alarm clock, a voice recorder, and video, photo and text viewing. It is priced from $160 to $185.
The next highest-rated is the Creative Zen V Plus 4GB player, which features voice and in-line recording and vivid OLED screen. It runs from $150 to $160 and uses joystick navigation.
Both these players have good ratings on battery life, as well.
In third place is the Apple iPod Nano with 8GB of memory, and a price tag betewen $219 and $250 each. It is the smallest of the three players and has a scratch resistant aluminum case, but it does not support video.
If you are looking for an ultra-compact, low-cost flash-based MP3 player, the iPod Shuffle is a good bet. It weighs only 0.6 oz and is not for those who lose their keys often! It does come in several bright colors, which makes it easier to spot, and with a belt clip. There have been some comments about the clip being a bit flimsy, but the reviewers at CNET found it to be sturdy enough to work, if not abused.
The iPod Shuffle takes its name from its ability to "shuffle" your music in a random order for playback. It is a 1 GB player, with a USB cord that connects to either your Mac or PC for music downloads.
It doesn't have a screen for viewing your selections, but does feature one of the easiest navigation systems available for those who want a simple player.
It runs for about $80, and is one of the more cost-effective flash-based players on the market.